Santa was a magical and wonderful figure for me as a child. I have only good feelings and happy memories for our beloved holiday gift-giver. So you can imagine my surprise when my two-year-old began asking suspiciously focused questions about him. My very literal child could not come to grips with the warmth and magic of Santa. He only saw him as a grown man breaking and entering.
My husband and I began to notice possible signs of underlying anxiety when my son would announce his arrival in a dark room by first asking if Santa was there. He’d walk around the house calling, “SAN-NA?!” And then in a muttering fashion, shake his head and assure himself that “no, SAN-NA not there.” We would catch him multiple times a day reassuring himself. My poor child! The apprehensive pep talks continued in every dark room until year four, when we resigned to leave Santa out of the whole darn thing.
We did not make our decision based on any religious beliefs or convictions. It was pure survival mode. We saw both the pros and cons of Santa, but always struggled with the elaborate stories we wove to make Santa seem safe for our child. We, for the first time in our parenting, avoided the questions and danced around the issue. Our passage through Christmas was to play dumb. We weren’t ready to close the door on our favorite tradition, but we gently steered our family around the whole ordeal. My son sensed this and holiday peace was restored. As he has grown, he has stopped asking about a midnight trespasser, although I have since told him that if he’d like to have a frank conversation about Santa, we are open to that. He has chosen, like us, to avoid it all.
I guess I just have to believe that one way or another, our kids will be fine.
So at this point, this year, this season, we are full speed ahead on dodging Santa. Is it wishy-washy? Yes, absolutely. Poor parenting? Possibly. But the reality is that we’ve really enjoyed our Christmas celebrations. We’ve blown out candles on birthday cakes for Jesus, marveled at the zoo lights, hosted parties and received carolers. We’ve baked our favorite NinjaBread Men cookies, we’ve traveled to visit family, we’ve watched fun Christmas movies and had snowball fights. Christmas is a countdown to Jesus’ birth, a celebration of family and what we’ve been provided, a chance for the kids to agonize over their wish-lists, a time to add in extra treats, special meals, a few more bible readings. I haven’t missed Santa, and I hope and believe (that by avoiding further trauma), our decision to keep Santa out of our December let other traditions step up to bat.
My friends all approach Santa differently, and are probably a lot more intentional than us with their decisions about Santa. Some of my friends have a hard time adding a separate storyline for young children; they do their best to keep it Christ-focused. Others love Santa and the joy, hope and belief he brings to a faith holiday. And then there’s us, who had a tiny child facing his fears in every dark corner of the house.
I guess I just have to believe that one way or another, our kids will be fine. I have enjoyed not being in any “camp” when it comes to choosing to incorporate Santa. My son’s fear has been an easy way for us to simply do what comes most natural for our family, even though initially it was sad to see him avoiding dark bathrooms and basements. So wherever you land on the spectrum of Santa inclusion, I wish you a very merry, joyful intruder-free Christmas.